Author Archives: SheilaK

About SheilaK

I am one of the most computer illiterate people you'll likely meet on a Blog site but here goes anyway! I am 61, retired from a busy career in social work, and about to set off on a journey of a lifetime with my husband Mike. Originally from St. Andrews, Scotland, I can't wait to see what the Big Lap, Australia, has in store for us as we pootle around it in a motor home for the next 12 months!

Tom Colin and Arnold

Tom Colin and Arnold is not the title of a new cocktail but are the names of three top blokes we encountered this week. ‘Encountered’ is a rather loose term since Tom died in 1962 and Colin in 1996 but Arnold, aged 94, is still going strong despite a quadruple bypass when he was 80. I’ll return to the story of these three gentleman later in this blog.

Sculpture in Port Hedland

Iron Ore Country

We took a detour away from the coastline this week and entered iron ore mining country – the domain of Rio Tinto. Evidence was all around that this area was being actively worked from the huge number of road trains and utes using the highways, the ships coming and going into Port Hedland and the accommodation on offer at some of the Caravan Parks we stayed in.

Paraburdoo Caravan Park

One Day This

Not all our accommodation choices have worked out the way we’d originally intended. Thankfully decisions to move on have been unanimous. This week we had been looking forward to spending two nights in Karijini National Park and had filled up our fridge with food, topped up our water tanks for showering and drinking, emptied the toilet and charged up our phones! Solar energy supports all our lights and the motor to drop our bed down at night and gas bottles take care of the cooker and fridge. Jura, the name we have affectionately given to our motor home, is therefore self sufficient for a few days at a time provided we can live without air conditioning, laundry facilities and perhaps a swimming pool and playground! The campground we were going to use in Karijini was another one that was bereft of anyone else and as we entered the very dusty road in there were warning signs about wild dingoes and the need to keep doors shut. The flies were horrendous so we’d have kept the doors shut anyway but with the temperature in the 40s and no air conditioning we were soon sweating away like little piggies! The other very serious issue though was the storm warning we’d received and with the thunder getting louder and the occasional drop of rain falling on the van, we decided not to risk getting stranded in a site that nobody was manning and where nobody knew where we were. Instead we enjoyed what we could of the gorges, pools and stunning scenery, I had a really refreshing swim at Fortescue Falls and we moved on to Auski Roadhouse where we let the storm pass overhead!

Chucking it Down!

Chucking it Down!

So on to our three top blokes. First Tom Price. Thomas Moore Price was an American gentleman who arrived in the Karijini Ranges in the early 1960s to appraise deposits of ore. He was instrumental in convincing the mining companies to mine in the area. In September 1962 Thomas returned to America. He passed away from a heart attack at his desk, only two hours after being advised of the very rich ore deposit discovered. Tom Price, the local town, was named after him and includes the Tom Price Visitor’s Centre, Tom Price Skateboard Park, Tom Price Golf Course, Tom Price Fire Station, Tom Price Caravan Park, etc etc. At 747 metres above sea level, it is the highest town in Western Australia and is beautifully landscaped with lots of green grass and a great coffee shop.

Tom Price Caravan Park

Next Day That!

Next up is Colin Matheson. For those who don’t know, my maiden name is Matheson and I have three brothers – one of whom is called Colin. We noticed on the map of Port Hedland an Oval going by the name Colin Matheson (spelt correctly) and decided to make enquiries into who this gentleman was at the local Visitor’s Centre. The lady behind the counter did her best to dig up some information but suggested our best bet was to go across the road and seek out Arnold Carter who would be in his office behind the Museum. We duly found Arnold, a former Mayor, still working as an Accountant, local historian and caretaker of the Koombana Exhibition. He gave us a wonderful detailed account of Colin Matheson who had been a postal officer, an inaugural member of the voluntary fire service and had two loves – football and railways. He set up the local football team in the early 60s and became something of a mouthpiece for the local community. Really interesting stuff but sadly there are no remaining Mathesons living locally.

I think my brother got the last laugh though – his nickname is Freefall Matheson after a number of climbing accidents (I believe). By the entrance to the Oval stands a statute – very appropriate don’t you think!

Ningaloo we so loved you

Turquoise Bay

Turquoise Bay, Ningaloo Reef

What’s not to love about clear blue water that is teaming with fish of every conceivable colour, shape and size? I have had a blast snorkelling in the beautiful bays here on the Ningaloo Coastline and even saw a turtle on one dive. My confidence definitely improved as the week went on and I would have done the Drift Loop at Turquoise Bay if I’d had a snorkelling accomplice. No once else was around and since there’s a dangerous current that can take you out to sea I didn’t want to risk it.

It didn’t worry us though being the only people camping at Kurrajong. We had roos for company and we are getting quite used to being lone campers at many of the campsites. The heat is definitely a factor as the mercury is not falling much below 40 degrees and many places are still shut until the end of March. This unfortunately will snooker our plans to do the Horizontal Falls in Broome as they are not taking bookings until the first week of April. By that stage we expect to be up in the Northern Territory and working our route out for coming back down the east coast (weather permitting). Oh well, it does give an excuse to come back another time with four wheel drive to do even more!

Cape Range National Park follows much of the Ningaloo Coastline and we went for early morning hikes at Mandu Mandu Gorge and Yardie Creek. We saw ospreys and eagles soaring above and, too quick for the camera, a little black footed rock wallaby. We’ve also spotted a wild cat as we’ve been driving along.

There is no chance to have a snooze in the passenger seat as the scenery is ever changing and very interesting. I am always looking out for photo opportunities and was a bit peeved that Mike sailed on past a huge termites nest before I got a chance to photograph it. I needn’t have worried, the next day we drove past literally thousands of these large brown mounds dotted all over the landscape!

With the roads being really empty and us doing many more miles between campsites, I have started sharing the driving with Mike. I love being so high up off the ground. We are now heading towards Karijini National Park. It has four mountains: Mount Sheila, Mount Bruce, Mount Nameless and Mount Meharry – fancy Sheila and Bruce being in the same mountain range lol! Four wheel drive vehicles are needed to access them unfortunately. However I am looking forward to cooling off in some of the rock pools. Rain is forecast so we’ll have to see how it goes as flash flooding can occur! We’re still capturing some amazing sunsets – this one was over Ashburton River last night.
Ashburton River Sunset

Sunset at Ashburton River

Love is in the air …

Tropic of Capricorn

Jura crossing Tropic of Capricorn

The past week’s headlines have all been about the dreadful flooding over in North Queensland. The road signs here in Western Australia provide a grim reminder that the same could easily happen here. Cyclones are most prevalent in February and March so we’ve downloaded the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM for short) App and picked up various cyclone advice leaflets now that we have officially crossed over into the Tropic of Capricorn.

We are enjoying the hot weather. It means the duvet has been packed away, air conditioning is on and we’re making good use of our barbeque, fly swot and even Jura’s outside shower. We stopped in the town of Carnarvon for a few nights. Sadly it’s a little bit run down since the Tracking Station which supported many of NASA’s space programmes is no longer in use. The Space and Technology Museum however was well worth the entrance fee and we spent a couple of hours looking at the various interactive displays, dressing up as astronauts and watching the first ever live TV broadcast between Australia and the UK conducted by Raymond Baxter whilst sitting in a mock up 1960s front room!

We camped overnight at Quobba, loved the blow holes and did some snorkelling before heading on to Coral Bay. There isn’t a lot to Coral Bay but it is very pretty and the marine life is wonderful. We saw over fifty sharks cruising the shallow water at Skeleton Bay (what a name huh!) and I’ve enjoyed swimming and snorkelling in Bill’s Bay.

Quobba Blowholes 1

Quobba Blowholes 1

Coral Bay is where we are celebrating our 16th Wedding Anniversary. Coral is actually meant to come after 35 years marriage but I’m not sure if we’ll be fit enough to come back here then! Topaz is the traditional anniversary gift for 16 years and Paradise Beach here delivers on blue topaz for the colour of the sea and amber topaz for the sand.

For those that don’t know, Mike and I take it in turns to organise a special day which includes an activity, a meal and a present (or two). Last year, for example, it was crystal and we went up to London to see the Crown Jewels, I got some bath crystals and engraved crystal glasses (neither suitable in Jura!) and we had dinner at a Michelin star gastro pub in Henley. Past activities have included climbing the Eiffel Tower for our 6th Anniversary (iron) and visiting Australia to collect Sheila the Sheep’s fleece from our very good farmer friends for our 7th Anniversary (wool).

I really wanted the activity this year to be fossicking but that will need to wait until we get round to Queensland. Instead we ended up as the only two people signed up for the Turtle Trek Adventure, a two hour trip on quad bikes up to Five Fingers Reef. It was quite an adrenaline experience coming down some of the sand dunes and the best of it was we actually got to see turtles swimming on the reef below us. Just love nature’s camouflage.

There are only two main eating establishments in Coral Bay – Bill’s place or Fin’s Café. Both had seagulls hopping on the tables although the ones at Bill’s place had the decency not to shit on the carpets or furniture when we were around! We had our anniversary meal at Bill’s and my gin cocktail matched perfectly with the topaz theme although we were disappointed that the promised tablecloth did not materialise!!!

Trying to do anything in secret whilst living in such close proximity to each other is well nigh impossible. Thankfully I got myself organised before leaving the UK and using blue and amber topaz beads sewed together a map of Australia. All that’s missing is a piece of driftwood to hang it on and Mike to tell me his 16 favourite places so I can mark these on the map with small topaz crystals. I’d lay money on Kiama, Timboon, Robe and Esperance featuring among the 16 but definitely not Millicent or Bunbury!!! We still have four months to go!

Topaz Anniversary Pressies

Happy Anniversary (Topaz)

Poetry in Motion

Midwest Windscreens took care of our crack,
They lent us a car to get around and back.
We stocked up on tins, wine, steak and beer,
We don’t want to run short in our Pootling year.

Standing Out at Aldi!

Standing Out at Aldi!

The Murchison River was a beautiful spot,
Before Billabong Roadhouse which was awfully hot.
No jolly swagman or coolibah tree,
But showers and toilets were laid on for free.

It’s off season now so we’ve timed it just right,
To visit Shark Bay a World Heritage site,
Three nights for two at this Caravan Park,
For Monkey Mia it’s up with the lark.

“What is Monkey Mia?”, I hear you ask?
“It’s where bottlenosed dolphins come in to bask.”
“What about monkeys, do they come too?”.
“No, no monkeys, they’re kept at the zoo.”.

Monkey Mia Resort

Pelican and Dolphins at Monkey Mia

Six dolphins came, three with their calves,
Pelican and turtles joined too for a laugh.
Irrabuga’s the dolphins Aboriginal name,
It means “bad breath”. Really. What a shame!

Trillions of cockle shells stand ten metres deep,
There’s no sand at all in this gigantic white heap.
Then on to Hamelin to see stromalites,
They pre-date dinosaurs but thankfully don’t bite!

So there you have it this week in rhyme,
You can tell I’ve had a lot of spare time.
Carnarvon and Quobba are next on the list,
No poetry there unless I am … !!

Anyone for Monopoly?

As a child one of the best Christmas presents I ever got was a game of Monopoly. I was living in Belize, Central America, at the time and so it was the American rather than British version. In my best handwriting I wrote a notice, which remains stuck to the lid to this day, saying “This game belongs to Sheila Kay Matheson”. I still remember many of the Chance and Community Chest Cards and this week a number of them have come up in everyday life!

Let’s start with Get Out of Jail Free. Although we had planned to visit Fremantle Jail, we found out we’d just missed the start of one tour, there was no option to just wander around on one’s own and the length and content of the tour wasn’t really suitable for our 7 year old grandson. Instead, we chanced upon a much more informal jail or gaol experience when we visited Geraldton. The curator could not have been more helpful and thought that as British citizens we ought to know the full story. No entrance fee, just a donation and her undivided attention for over half an hour! She told us that if Western Australia had to accept a quota of convicts then they stipulated that they would only accept the better ones i.e. young men who were fit and healthy and with skills that could be used in mining, construction and agricultural. For those who re-offended, a small jail was built in Geraldton to avoid them needing to return back to Fremantle Prison. Geraldton’s Gaol, together with the on site hospital, remained operational for over 100 years and only closed in the 1980s. There were interesting stories about those convicts who ‘Done Good’ and became pillars of the community as well as a few naughty ones. Apparently a third of all Australians know or believe they have convict history. The jail cells are now individual craft shops and the buildings have been beautifully restored.

Instead of a Chance Card about Building Repairs, we picked up a charge for Bicycle Repairs. Whether its the heat, the dust, the fact that we’ve done over 2,400 kms or a combination of all three, our electric bikes have started cutting out at inopportune times and so we decided to get them serviced. The $215 included a new tube for Mike’s bike and a diagnosis that his bike has a more serious issue that will need repairing under warranty. Only trouble is they will need to send off the motor and wait for it to come back which could take a couple of weeks. Looks like we’ll need to spend a bit more time in Broome than we planned.

We did not take out medical insurance as we’d heard that provided you register with Medicare, there is a reciprocal health arrangement between Australia and the UK. The system worked a treat for Mike who walked into a local Health Centre yesterday and was seen within 10 minutes to have his ears syringed. No cost and his blood pressure and pulse were also declared to be in good working order, phew! He needed to be fit and healthy for the walk up to Nature’s Window at Kalbarri National Park at the crack of dawn this morning. The advice from the Visitor’s Centre was to go as early as possible because the temperature is always another 10 degrees on top of what it is in the town and since it was 37 degrees yesterday, we got up specially early. Equipped with flynets and many litres of water we were pleasantly surprised at the lack of flies and actually it didn’t get that hot. The only nasty surprise when we got back to the van was that it had somehow developed a foot long crack down the front windscreen!!!

So that’s where our next Monopoly card comes into play – the Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200 one. Our insurance company were really quick in linking us up with their local representative and there is no charge or excess payable because apparently you’re allowed one free window replacement a year. Wish we had that in the UK. The only down side is that we need to return to Geraldton to have it done which is 160 kms south again. Still we did stop at some interesting sights on the way up. First there was Northampton where they have a strong connection to sheep farming. There are artistic Sheila the Sheeps everywhere but none with earrings. The local cafe is named the Shearing Shed and serves up the very best vanilla slices we have ever tasted. Whilst we were enjoying ours, a couple of leather clad bikers came in who had travelled over 50 kms just to pick some up. I did smile when I saw them leaving the shop with the vanilla slices being carried in a vivid little picnic cool bag which was not quite so Hells Angels! With it being Australia Day and places being busy we spent the night on the local golf course free of charge.

Next stop was Port Gregory where there is a very pink pink lake as well as a delightful stretch of beach where the waves crash against the reef. Not so delightful were the blue bottles. In the UK blue bottles are annoying large house flies but here in Australia they refer to something that looks like a penis vagina and are also known as Portuguese Man-of-War Jellyfish. There were loads washed up on the beach which meant there must have been hundreds in the water. No swimming for me which is a shame because I’ve just bought myself a snorkel, mask and flippers.

Australians may be good at Monopoly but I’m sure they are even better at Catchphrase. Everything over here seems to get named very simplistically. For example, there are loads of Shelly Beaches (beaches with shells), Diagonal and Long Flat Roads (so named because they either go diagonally or are long and flat), we’ve gone over the Wet Creek and today we visited Mushroom Rock – yup, a rock shaped like a mushroom! The coastline is a must for geologists.

We are getting more accustomed to the Fremantle Doctor (the wind) that comes up from the South West but it doesn’t half do some damage to the poor trees who look as though they have bad hair dos or stiff necks.
Bad Hair Day!

Bad Hair Day!

Lastly, Monopoly wouldn’t be Monopoly without property sales and acquisitions. We haven’t said anything up till now and certainly don’t want to jinx ourselves, but this week we’ve had encouraging emails about a potential property deal back home that could result in us becoming homeless but not penniless!!!

What’s In A Name?

Turquoise Coastline

Turquoise Coast

The clue is in the title and this week it has been all about place names and their pseudonyms! Two hundred and twenty kilometres north of Perth is the pretty coastal town of Jurien Bay which lies on the aptly named Turquoise Coast. We spent four nights here unwinding after our busy time with the family. Although we took a task centred approach to re-organising the van, we also followed a therapeutic approach and enjoyed cycling along the Turquoise Way, eating fish and chips and watching the sun set over the water most nights. Skydiving looked fun but too much like hard work or maybe we just weren’t ready for the adrenalin rush!

Next stop was Green Head where the photo opportunity to use my green nit cap again was too much to resist. I did get some funny looks though from passers by! We stayed at a lovely little rustic caravan park which means basically that it was a bit dusty and had limited facilities but great location, clean toilets, nice shower curtains and big shady pitches. A short walk from the campsite was Dynamite Bay whose claim to fame was that it was ranked the 19th best beach in Australia in 2017. It was a nice enough spot but definitely over-rated in my opinion compared with what we’ve seen so far.

Green Head

Green Head!

There’s been a major cock up (excuse my French) over our replacement windows which were due to have been shipped over from Sydney to Geraldton after Christmas. Instead they have sat in Sydney with the guy responsible now off on holiday and not leaving instructions for anyone. Luckily the cracks in our acrylic windows haven’t got any worse and there hasn’t been any rain to test how waterproof they are. Looking on the bright side it means we’ll get to spend Australia Day in Geraldton (there could be a lot in that name!!!).

Currently we are in a town called DONGara but I will always think of it as PONGara for two reasons. Firstly the pungent smell coming off the sea weed and secondly the laundry room. For those unfamiliar with our pootling lifestyle, we are heavily reliant on the laundry facilities at the various campsites. Whilst I fully appreciate there are far more important things to worry about such as Brexit and Global Warming, my life currently revolves around ensuring I have enough $1 coins for the washing machines and holding out for a day or two if the washer price is over $4. Today I thought I’d struck gold when the machine actually took 2 x $2 coins (conserving my limited supply of $1 coins). Another gentleman was in the laundry room as I put my washing on and he was enquiring about the cost of the driers as he had some things he simply wanted to dry. As someone who never uses the tumble driers, I told him I didn’t know. He obviously worked it out for himself because when I went back to collect my washing, the drier was going full pelt. Now although I admit to being quite squeamish around blood and guts, my ability to stomach unpleasant smells isn’t too bad I thought. That is until today! The stench coming off the stuff in the drier immediately started me dry retching. It was as if the guy worked in a fish gutting factory and was simply drying off his wet work clothes. Try as I might to unload my washing, I just couldn’t. I was gagging so badly that my breakfast was about to end up all over my newly washed clothes. In the end I had to get Mike to rescue the washing so I could hang it out. Laundry products that promise to leave your clothes smelling like Sea Breeze will be avoided in future!!!

South Beach, Dongara

One of the Pong Sources!

Memories plus more!

My daughter and family flew back to Sydney yesterday but their three and a half week visit has left us with so much more than a collection of wonderful photographs. Alongside the children’s laughter, cuddles, squabbles and playfulness, we have a whole new collection of precious memories to keep us going. There was the time, for example, when Sophie challenged a shop assistant who was dressed to the nines as a fairy. “You’re not a real fairy”, said Sophie. “Yes I am” said the lady. “Where are your wings then?” said Sophie. “Here” said the lady doing a twirl and showing Sophie her floppy sewed on fairy wings. The look of utter disgust on Sophie’s face was priceless. Then there was the time when after finding an actual creepy crawly in my hair Jenny massaged Moov Head Lice Solution into my scalp. A passerby commented how lucky I was to be being treated to a head massage by my lovely daughter – if only she knew. No requirement to visit the parlour next door which went by the interesting name of Cockburn Massage!!!

Jura coped well with the additional demands of catering for six rather than two when it came to serving up meals, toileting little people and providing shade from the scorching sun. Our visitors were less impressed by the fridge and freezer which did not keep up with the extra demands for ice cold water, beer, wine and ice cubes! The oven also played up under the very windy conditions and kept going out when Jenny was trying to roast veggies. Still, we did enjoy some great camp meals including paella, roast lamb and a delicious chicken salad. Eating out was also fun and we got to enjoy some peaceful meals when the children adopted my pastime of looking for sea glass. Fremantle had an excellent spot and the real thrill was that Sophie and Charlie each found a small piece of very rare sapphire blue sea glass that trumps anything I’ve found to date!

We travelled up the Sunset Coast and have seen some awesome sunsets. It has been good to move on again and we enjoyed the waterside vibe in Mandurah. Fremantle gave us the opportunity to visit Perth and then Rottnest Island which was a real highlight for all of us. The scenery was simply stunning. We took our electric bikes over on the ferry which made travelling round the island very pleasurable. We did feel a bit guilty though as Ben pedalled up some steep slopes dragging two little munchkins behind him! All worthwhile though to see their excitement at coming face to face with the friendly quokkas.

Putting up and taking down the two tents every couple of days was a bit of a chore for Jen and Ben but they seemed to enjoy the change of scenery after two weeks in Bunbury compound! Being together on the one site gave us a chance for some good quality time together, pair off in different groupings and share some fabulous experiences. At Burns Beach we were situated right on the sea front by a super cycle track. Yanchep National Park provided the opportunity to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild and for the McGregors to hang from the trees like monkeys. I was given responsibility for chaperoning Sophie round the two children’s courses and was amazed that such a wee person could smash it (as they say over here)!

Aside from the memories, the McGregors left us with some things they didn’t want to take home. My daughter knows how much I hate waste and so leftover conditioner, shampoo, olive oil and such like has been decanted into our bottles so as not to take up too much space. They also didn’t drink all the wine we’d bought so Mike and I can continue savouring some of the delicious wines we picked up en route. We didn’t visit Swan Valley in the end – perhaps a reason to come back over here in future. The generous thing Ben left behind was a better working knowledge of Jura. In particular he paired up my phone with the Blue Tooth radio both inside and outside the van and figured out how to switch on the LED awning lights so we can party to our heart’s content. We are set up with a new mallet and tyre pressure gauge and on future campsites we’ll be looking out for trees on which to hang the hammock.

Since saying cheerio yesterday, we have put a few kilometers between ourselves and Perth and are on the Turquoise Coast. The journey took us past many hills that looked like they were covered in snow but were actually sand dunes. We stopped in Nambung National Park and were taken aback by the sandscape which are The Pinnacles. We haven’t planned out our route for the next tranche yet but we’re now officially half way through our twelve month visa though technically not half way round. ‘Technically’ and ‘actually’ were two words the children used a lot – ahhh the memories just keep on comin’.